Russia’s Foreign Ministerial Discussions in Pakistan: Analysis

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Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov with Pakistan’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi

Op/Ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis

  • Talks concerning Afghan Peace Process
  • Bilateral trade has significantly increased, with Pakistan looking at an EAEU Free Trade Agreement
  • Securing the region is essential to link Central and South Asian trade and infrastructure connectivity 

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has met with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, with both countries reaffirming their support for the Afghan peace process and expressing concern at the violence in the country.

Lavrov met Qureshi at the Pakistani foreign ministry for delegation-level talks yesterday,  and also held meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan, army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and other top officials.

It is the first time a Russian foreign minister has visited Pakistan in nine years.

Afghanistan Peace

The visit comes as Afghan peace talks are making little headway, with a deadline looming for the US to withdraw its forces from the war-torn country.

Washington signed an agreement with the Taliban last year allowing it to withdraw its forces in exchange of security guarantees. Fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban, however, is continuing.

Lavrov stated that “We agreed that we need to further facilitate the contradictory and hostile parties in Afghanistan for them to reach an agreement and put an end to a civil war based on inclusive dialogue.” Lavrov said Russia and Pakistan shared a “concurrence or similarity of approaches” to regional problems, including the situation in Afghanistan.

A May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is imminent; however, any withdrawal is looking increasingly unlikely given the continuing violence in the country.

“We want to deepen our bilateral relations, and create win-win cooperation between two countries.” Qureshi stated. Islamabad and Moscow have accelerated defense cooperation in recent years following Pakistan’s deteriorating ties with the US.

Covid-19

On coronavirus vaccines, Lavrov said Russia had already sold 50,000 doses of the Russia-developed Sputnik V vaccine to Pakistan, and that it was to provide a further 150,000 doses “soon”.  The two countries also discussed the possibility of signing agreements on local production of the Sputnik V vaccine in Pakistan to help meet the domestic demand. Pakistan’s population is 220 million.

Russia-Pakistan Bilateral Trade

On trade, Qureshi also stated “We discussed how we can promote economic relations and trade, we realize that our trade touched a new level last year, but we have plenty of opportunities of broadening our trade links, and we will certainly investigate the investments and economic cooperation, you know, the sky’s the limit. We want to deepen our bilateral relations and create win-win cooperation between two countries. Pakistan is known to be keen to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union – Pakistan’s neighbor, Iran, signed off a deal in 2019 while India is holding discussions.

In 2020, bilateral trade between Pakistan and Russia stood at almost US$350 million, up 45% from the year before, according to the Pakistan Central Bank.

In the last fiscal year, trade between the countries stood at almost $350m, up 45 percent from the year before, according to Pakistani central bank data. However, Lavrov stated the true figure was US$790 million, citing an increase of Russian Wheat exports.

Regardless, there is plenty of room for expansion. Pakistan’s middle class consumer base is about 122 million, or about 50% of its total population, and readily accessed as the country is urbanizing.

The two countries have also been involved in major infrastructure projects, with Russia constructing a major gas pipeline along the length of Pakistan. That can also provide Russian LNG to the country, with Pakistan negotiating to have pipelines built to Karachi and Lahore.

The Russia-India-Pakistan discussions concerning Afghanistan as all regional parties want peace and for much-needed infrastructure to be put in place. The proposed Intra-Afghan Railway for example, would link land-locked Uzbekistan and other Central Asian states to South Asia by traversing Afghanistan and exiting at Pakistan’s Gwadar and Karachi Ports giving access to the Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean.

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